CEO of Sun & Swell Foods, Kate Flynn, shares the importance and challenges of leading and building a business that is profitable but is not focused on profits.
LISTEN to this pod right here by clicking play or choose your favorite listening platform below. You can also WATCH the video podcast below that! Check out the show notes at the bottom to get more details about the contents of this podcast. Enjoy!
Show Notes in order of appearance:
- Kate talks about being a mom soon and “micro hell yea moments”
- Appreciating small achievements in the business journey
- A personal diet shift giving birth to a business
- Major brand differentiators: certified B corporation, vegan, compostable, local and other
- Building a business that’s profitable but not focused on profits
- What is a Certified B Corporation
- Valuing vendor relationships over pricing
- Creating healthy habits in your business
- 1% for the planet
- Pioneering compostable packing in the CPG industry
- Challenges of compostable packaging
- If you can’t grow and profit you can’t help the good causes
- Purchasing decisions for Gen Z and current consumers
- Doing something for consumers vs for yourself or your own employees
- Getting all stakeholders behind one mission
- Adapting to Covid 19 and pivoting CPG sales and distribution strategy
- Innovating during challenging times
- Building a strong brand connecting with consumers during difficult times
- Working with a spouse or family member.
- Work relationship vs personal relationship
- Conscious leadership, profits and bigger purpose
Below is a transcript of the video podcast created by Seb’s Robot buddy, Zekton. He tends to make mistakes so please forgive him if you find errors or some funky sounding sentences. For the real deal, watch the video or click on your favorite audio Podcast platform above! Enjoy!
Sebastian Naum (00:09):
Hey guys, in today’s show, I interviewed Kate Flynn, founder of sun and swell foods. Kate is an awesome example of a conscious leader who runs a successful purpose driven company. And I’m super excited to bring you to the story. It’s not just about success. It’s about the journey of constantly pivoting and the challenges of doing something that makes money, but also makes a difference. She’s an inspiring female entrepreneur whom I’ve known for over 10 years. Now. She’s a graduate of Harvard business school and spent several years working as a consultant in the retail and consumer products space. After switching to a natural lifestyle in 2016, she began making her own healthy snacks to keep her fueled for long days in the office. She soon realized her personal recipes could help other conscious eaters and decided to launch her own natural snack food company sentence. While snacks can now be found on the shelves of whole foods and many other retailers, her mission is to make optimized nutrition, more attainable for both herself and her customers and do it in a way that’s more sustainable for the planet. Enjoy the show.
Sebastian Naum + Kate Flynn (01:11):
What’s up Kate, welcome to the show. How’s it going? It’s going great. It’s going great. And I’m seriously so excited to have you. And I have to say like, it’s pretty surreal to me to have you, because first of all, we met a really long time ago, over 10 years ago. I’m not gonna say exactly how long. So I was an agent donate us. You CSP in the dorms the first day of fricking school, and now we’re doing a podcast together and you’re just weeks away from having a human child interviewing you about a purpose-driven brand that you built from scratch. So I’m super stoked. Yeah, me too. We’ve come a long way and you have come a long, have come a long way. Let me start out by asking you, when was your last, Oh, moment. Good. It could be bad. Anything you want? The first thing that comes to mind, you’re like, Oh gosh. I mean, obviously like, and this is related to the business. Yeah. Or just anything, anything in life. What I found out we were pregnant.
Kate Flynn (02:18):
I think that was the, that was the most, it was the most surprising thing. Um, cause we weren’t planning and we, uh, I think I’ve always viewed myself as like, um, I’ve always wanted to be a mom, but like a business woman. And so like all of a sudden we’re like, Whoa, we’re going to be, parents were totally not ready. And uh, yeah. Now this moment and mom, exactly. I totally, and I’ve heard it makes you a better, um, I’ve heard it can help make you a better entrepreneur or founder because you learn to prioritize more. So now we we’ve gotten over that like, Oh my gosh, we’re great parents now. We’re like, all right, we’re ready for this. So it’s amazing. I’m so excited for both of you so
Sebastian Naum (03:00):
Excited. And what was your last hell? Yeah, moment.
Kate Flynn (03:04):
Gosh, um, we, uh, I’m sure we’ll get into this a little bit, but we’ve kind of had to make some pivots and changes due to some of the COVID situation and we’ve, it’s, there’s been kind of little wins every day that I’ve been proving that what we’re, how we’re changing the business is working. And that’s just really, it’s really exciting. And during these challenging times to have these like awesome, like just several times a day, like a win-win win. Um, so yeah, I think about that
Sebastian Naum (03:32):
A lot of little micro hell Yemen daily. Exactly.
Kate Flynn (03:36):
So a lot of times I like that. The biker hell. Yeah, yeah. A lot of times it says like, it’s funny because a lot of times like the really big Helia moments have been like this months and months and months or a year of like buildup. And so when they happen and you know, they’re going to happen in advance of when you can like talk about them and all that stuff. So like when they happen, you don’t, um, you know, you don’t, it doesn’t always feel as like huge as you would expect it to be. So it’s really like the little daily things.
Sebastian Naum (04:04):
It’s interesting. I really resonate with that actually, because I worked so hard for a lot of things, whether it is personal achievements or achievements with my agencies or whatever it may be. And you worked so hard for some stuff that a lot of times when it happens, you don’t really stop and really appreciate it. Like feel gratitude for it. And also kind of Pat yourself on the back for how much you’ve done to lead up to it. And you’re kinda like, okay, well I worked so hard. Like that’s what I expected to do. So it’s like, you know, you just kinda move on and move onto the next thing. So it’s good to stop and be like, hell yeah. And appreciate it. So let’s rewind a little bit, uh, how did seven swell start, which wasn’t named sun and swell, but how did it all start?
Kate Flynn (04:44):
Totally. Yeah. So, um, it, this is about four years ago. Um, I made a big, a big shift to my diet. So I was always like when I was teens twenties, I was always like obsessed with like things like calories and carbs. And I was really focused on like numbers on the nutrition label.
Sebastian Naum (05:01):
Common wouldn’t be in a teenage drinker in my car by the way. Pretty cool. Now it is.
Kate Flynn (05:06):
Yeah, no, totally. And it’s, but it’s like a weird thing. I think like, especially I know that this impacts with like females and males, but females just like get obsessed with like these diets and the diet culture and like all these things, you know? And, um, I was, it was food was like always like on my mind for a really long time. And, but it wasn’t like a negative way. Like I can’t eat that. I can’t eat that. Like, this is bad. Like, Oh, nuts have fat. I should stay away from them and like stuff like that. Um, but as I, like when I ran one right around when I turned 30, I basically, I started eating, but at like a whole food diet, which is basically a diet rich and real whole foods. So avoiding, um, I started, I, it was, you know, maybe some of his low calorie, but it was full of added sugars.
Kate Flynn (05:51):
Like I just, I would avoid it, um, versus like something like nuts, which is like high in fat, but um, full, like really good fats and like really nutrient rich food. I’d start. I started eating more of that types of food. So it was kind of like a shift in how I viewed food. And when I started eating this like whole food, plant-based like real food diet. It was really super life changing for me. And, um, I started going into grocery stores and like flipping over labels on the, like on the backs of all my favorite foods that I like to eat and realize that they were like full of ingredients that I was like, okay, I have, this is added sugar. This is added sugar. Or like, this is ingredient that’s like in here just for the color, you know? And so I basically started avoiding those types of foods, um, and realized there was kind of a white space in the market for, to bring like real whole food snacks to people. Um, and that was 2016. And so I kind of realized that I had a personal need. Um, but I could see the market like had a need for it too. And, um, so the mission originally started with wanting to bring like healthier real food to people.
Sebastian Naum (06:57):
And what started from that? What was the first thing that was created from that? What happened? It started in your kitchen.
Kate Flynn (07:03):
Totally. Yeah. So it started and it actually served with a different product. So when we, so today, like our main product line are these, um, little like date and cashew energy ball type things. We don’t like to call them energy, but a 10 most will describe them a little like Dane cashew, snack balls. Um, but when we first started Brian and I, my husband and co-founder Brian and I were both training for a marathon and we were trying to like avoid added sugars and we were already training with those things called, um, if they went like goos or they’re like the little, they basically have these little pockets of yeah. And we were trying to follow, like we’re trying to avoid added sugar and like added ingredients. And we’re like, wow, all of these gurus that are for like Mo like these endurance athletes are full of these bad ingredients or ingredients that we were trying to avoid.
Kate Flynn (07:51):
And so the first product we made was like our own version of that, which was just like dates and water and a little bit of salt. And Brian actually ran the Boston marathon using that like thing we made. And he like had his best marathon ever. And so the original thought was like, okay, let’s bring this like clean energy gel. But then we, there was a lot of barriers with that. Like it had to be refrigerated and it was a lot of complex. It was a really niche market where like, this is going to be hard to sell it. So we ended up evolving a little bit into a product that was more of like a snack item, um, fit within the same, like ethos of, we want like things without a bunch of added anything. But, um, so the, the, the core mission kind of started with one product evolved over time, but starting in our kitchen, like just,
Sebastian Naum (08:38):
And then what was the first, what was that first product that went to market?
Kate Flynn (08:42):
The first product that went to market, where is, it’s still our, our number one seller right now. It’s our date and cashew bites. Um, and like our first time on the market was like, we set up a little booth at a local triathlon, like just sold the bites there. And it was like, we had given them to her friends in advance and were like, okay, your friend said they like ’em, but like, we don’t know if they really like them, if they’re just like trying to be nice, but that was like the first time I bring it to the public and people like really liked them. Right. Okay. I feel like we actually have something here.
Sebastian Naum (09:10):
I remember trying some from the bachelor kitchen actually. Delicious. I love them. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So let’s talk differentiators. And I’m gonna look down here in my notes because sure. Major brand characteristics, right. That set sentence fell apart. And they don’t, obviously they’re not just great for the product, but they help generate a bigger connection with the consumers, but I’m looking down because you guys are like all the things. Okay. If I go to the website and you go down to the bottom of the homepage, you’re certified B corporation, 1% for the planet, USDA, organic certified vegan, this bag is compostable and made locally in California. Like that’s Epic. So first of all, congratulations, because that’s really awesome. That’s amazing. Right. I, it’s something that I can connect with when I look at a brand. So I love seeing all these labels. That means so much. So can you talk a little bit about some of these, some of these labels?
Kate Flynn (10:04):
Yeah, totally. So, um, you know, so as I was just saying, like our mission started with bringing healthier food to people and that’s like always been at the core of what we wanted to do, but pretty quickly after we started our business, we’re like, we want this just like, just caring about like the, you can want to bring healthy food to the world, but do it in a way that’s, um, you know, a business that’s only run for profit and your, um, you know, you’re not caring about all the other stakeholders involved that you’re impacting with your business and you’re not, you know, and, um, we realized quickly early on, like, we don’t just want to build like a food company. Like we want to build a business that’s leaving like a really positive impact on the world. And you, you, I can tell, like, I think when I started the business, my mindset was like, okay, I want to grow this like a huge company and like sell it in three to five years and like make tons of money.
Kate Flynn (10:57):
Like, of course, like growing, like growing the company and profit is like always super, super important, but I quickly could tell, like, there’s other things that really are fulfilling to me. Um, and that’s like being a business that you can feel really, really proud about, um, being, and we’ve always, whenever people ask us who we want to be like, who we aspire to as a business, um, it’s always Patagonia. It’s not like, you know, a major food snack brand. And, um, we’re fortunate enough to have them, like, they’re, they’re local. We live in Santa Barbara, they’re based in Ventura. Um, so they’re really like right near us. Um, and I think that’s, you know, we’re always like, how can we do better as a business and things like, um, when it comes to like our ingredients, things like being organic and like entirely plant-based, that’s just to support better farming because, um, you can have good ingredients, but that aren’t you good for as good for the environment as Atlantic, but at least ingredients.
Kate Flynn (11:58):
Um, but when it comes to like the B Corp certification and 1% for the planet, which means we’re getting B corporation, so a certified B corporation basically means the way to think about it is it’s almost like an organic certification, but for your business. And so instead of having like a product certified organic, your business is certified as a B corporation, and it means you, you meet certain standards when it comes to how you treat the environment, how you treat that suppliers, how you treat your employees, how you treat your customers. So really is looking at all stakeholders involved and, um, and really, it’s kind of a commitment to use your business as a force for good, um, across all of these different elements of your business. Like I always like an example, I think an easy tangible example for like, for that is, um, when we, as a B Corp, you kind of have to become a certified B corporation.
Kate Flynn (12:51):
You have to like get, um, a certain score, like it’s out of 200 points and you have to get so many points to earn your certification. And some of the things you get points are is like your length of supplier relationships. So how do you switch suppliers every six months? Or have you been like partners with your suppliers for a long time? Um, another thing is like, whether you’re sourcing, you know, if you’re sourcing locally or if you’re sourcing, um, you know, things close to home within a couple of several hundred miles from your, um, you know, from your home or from where you’re making everything. And so a good example is like our dates. So a lot of our products use dates and from day one, we’ve worked with this farm in Coachella, Coachella Valley to get our dates. And, um, we love them.
Kate Flynn (13:36):
They were like, they were they’re huge farm. They work with huge customers, but they, like, they treated us with like respect and kindness. And like, since we were like, literally ordering like one little 15 pound box at a time and they like treated us, like we were, you know, a big customer and we always value that. And as we’ve grown, we constantly get approached by people who want to sell organic dates at a cheaper price. But, um, and usually they’re imported from like another country. And so if we only cared about the profit like that, we would say, yeah, we want the cheaper dates. They’re organic. Like, they’re cheaper, whatever. But because like, we’re kind of thinking about our business, like all these other different elements where like, no, like we’d rather pay like a little bit more to be able to stay with this one supplier and have them have our dates coming from like a hundred miles away versus across the ocean.
Sebastian Naum (14:24):
Yeah. And that, that’s an admirable move by the way. And you know, I’ve been looking for certified B labels on things for a long time and they affect my purchasing decision. It’s really, really do you know? And, um, I didn’t know that that would be a factor, for example, in a certified bee that you have to remain with your supplier for a certain amount of time. So that’s really cool. You know how, I mean, it seems like some things could be hard to obtain that certified B, but would it be, is it hard to obtain that, that it should be discouraging for new startups? Or is it still it’s it’s approachable. It’s doable. It’s not like some bureaucratic, like a thing where you have to wait like five years to get the certification kind of thing.
Kate Flynn (15:02):
No, it’s actually like, from a cost perspective, I mean, it was way cheaper for us to get B Corp certified certified, then organic certified. I think it’s like, I don’t know what it is now. I think it was like $500 or something like that. But, um, but I actually think it’s easier to do it as a small company because, um, you are building those like guardrails and your company as a young company. Versus if you wait, if you’re like a a hundred million dollar company and all of a sudden you want to switch, like you want to become a B Corp, it could be really hard and expensive for you to like, try to make all those changes if you’re doing it, when you’re really young company and started starting out your pricing model is like all built on all of those things being in place.
Kate Flynn (15:45):
So like in the example, I was just giving with the dates. If we waited, if we were, if we made the decision to like, let’s buy the tuber dates and then, you know, eventually we, we decided we wanted to like, Oh, actually I need to source better ingredients because of this secret. Like all of a sudden our price are gonna go up that hasn’t been built in our business. So I actually think we did it when we were like pretty, I think a year after we started. And I think it was like, I’m so glad we did it then. Um, and it’s really helped me, like, as like we grow the organization, think within like, it makes decision making easier. I think, I think I’m like, no, I can’t do that because like, I’m committed to this like bigger thing. Um, and the other thing about it is, so you have to get to get B Corp certified.
Kate Flynn (16:28):
You it’s out of so many points and you only need to get like half those points. So a lot of the things are like a lot of the things that the B Corp will give you points for, like are like, there’s a lot of stuff around employee benefits, like as a startup company, like, we can’t give a scrappy startup that hasn’t raised like a lot of money. Like, we can’t give amazing employee benefits right now. Like, I can’t wait until we can, but that’s so expensive. Like we just can’t do it right now. Um, but when we do like that, it didn’t prohibit us from getting into B court because that they just said, okay, you can’t do all that. What else are you doing? Oh, you’re using organic ingredients. Okay. You’re, you know, so-so, you get, you’ll have to get a hundred percent to get certified. It’s like, you have to get like half of the potential
Sebastian Naum (17:14):
And the way I see it, too, for what you were explaining about it, it’s almost like in terms of doing it from the get-go, it’s a creating a healthy habit, like yeah. Right. But for your company. So it’s like staying lean and mean and strong by doing the right thing. The beginning, if you get really out of shape, it’s much harder to get back into shape and eat healthy and workout. Right. It’s like your business. Totally. That’s exactly. Spot on. So a 1% for the planet. And what is that about?
Kate Flynn (17:41):
So 1% for the planet means we commit to giving 1% of our revenue to an organization that, um, a, that helps the environment. So this was started by Patagonia. Um, and it’s basically, it’s basically like, okay, like we owe the environment something for like, like, you know, it’s like a it’s it’s, it’s, it’s a great way to kind of, um, I don’t know, be able to, again, early on from when we started the company build into like all of our pricing and all of our financial models like that, we’re going to be committed to giving 1% of revenue towards somebody that helps the environment. So we choose to partner with an organization that’s called the channel islands, Marine and wildlife Institute. And they rescue, um, sea lions and other ocean mammals, like off the coast of Santa Barbara. So you can, you can partner with big nonprofits, the one we partner with the super small, we feel like as a small business.
Kate Flynn (18:36):
Yeah, totally. Yeah. And you can choose multiple ones. Like, you know, it has to be, um, it has to be a nonprofit that’s helping the environment. And so for RSV, um, we’re animal lovers and we love, there are smaller nonprofits that we love that like, as a small company, we feel like we can make a difference. Like, you know, our 1% goes, goes, um, you know, can really help them. So, um, yeah. That’s and then, yeah, you can choose multiple non-profits so you can switch them every year or whatever you want. So really cool. You know,
Sebastian Naum (19:04):
Hey guys, I just want to remind you, if you want to find more content like this, you can business Sebastian nom.com. That’s Sebastian N a U m.com. You can also get a ton of other marketing resources for myself and my agencies ranging from SEO to social media, influencer, marketing, branding, web development, and more again, that’s Sebastian nom.com. Thank you. And enjoy the rest of the show.
Sebastian Naum (19:24):
There’s a lot of statistics out there that show that buyers really want to be able to connect with the same cause that the brand they’re buying from is connecting with so that, you know, that expands through to the consumer as well, which is really awesome. Now, compostable bags, compostable packaging. I know that’s been a big deal and it’s been a big hurdle for you guys and different ways. Not all of your packaging is compostable. Some of them are, and I know you were a, you know, a bit of a pioneer in this, what you guys were one of the first, um, to have compostable packaging in your industry.
Kate Flynn (20:01):
Yep. Yeah. So compostable packaging is, uh, yeah, it’s in one of the biggest, I would say things are most passionate about, but also the thing that’s made it, like the hardest thing that you’ve done since we’ve, since we’ve been great at it, sometimes we’re like, man, if we just didn’t care about this, like our lives would be a lot easier, but basically, um, so, you know, started this company mission of making people healthier, like along the journey just became very aware of the fact that we were really contributing to the single use plastic problem and to be like totally candid, like before we started the company, like I brought my bag to the grocery store, like I did my little things, but like, I was never, like, I would never be the consumer. Who’s like, I’m only gonna, you know, I’m, I wasn’t extreme about anything and I’m not super extreme when I try my best.
Kate Flynn (20:50):
I think like a lot of us do. But, um, but when we realized, okay, like we have visions for this business to be a huge business. And if it becomes the size of the business, we want it to be, we’re going to be like a major contributor to like single use plastic. Like at the same, this was kind of like bringing me. I was like starting to feel really bad about that. And at the same time discovered that their technology is now available for, to sell packaged snack foods and compostable film. So, um, so I started to look into it. We are, I would say part of the reason we were able to, or that we did do it is because we were a small company. That’s like, whatever, let’s just give it a try. I think if there are a lot of bigger companies working on launching their products and compostable right now, but they have to be really careful about it because, you know, they’re um, so if something doesn’t work for us, it’s like, okay, like, no problem. Like we’re a startup, like we’ll figure it out. But like when you’re a much bigger company, like those, that’s a major change for you. Um, there’s a lot of complexities to compostable and like, it it’s, you have to, your supply chain changes a lot. Um, it’s not a lot of people think that all it is is an extra cost. It’s not like, just like, if you think about it, um, the con the packaging itself over time starts to degrade. Cause it’s compostable. And for
Sebastian Naum (22:08):
Example, just to get an idea and they say like,
Kate Flynn (22:11):
The shelf life is nine months. It doesn’t mean it like dissolves and knives on the shelf. What it means is like somewhat, like it might not, it might start to like, not look as good or like this, like that. That’s the biggest problem that we’ve had with it is like when it gets to the grocery store shelf or, um, you know, we sell our snacks on coffee shops and it’s sitting on the shelf of a coffee shop and it, it honestly it’s even less than nine months, if it gets handled like too much, it’s like wrinkly it doesn’t, it just doesn’t look as beautiful as like a piece of plastic.
Kate Flynn (22:42):
Yeah, totally. And that’s, what’s really cool about it. Like, yeah.
Kate Flynn (22:46):
That’s, it’s like, theoretically, it’s really cool that the PA the plastic doesn’t look like it’s or the package isn’t going to stay around forever and that it’s not perfect. And it’s not a work of beautiful art. You don’t want to throw away, but consumers don’t know that yet because nobody’s selling a compostable yet. And so that’s been like the, one of the bigger challenges for us is like, we’ve had to be really selecting what channels we can sell our compostable through. So for example, um, we sell like UCFB carries our snacks and compostable, and that was like, yeah. And that was like a big, they specifically wanted the compostable and they were going to take out like the existing products. They had an input, the compostable in, and we’re like, they are doing it with the understanding that like, if they don’t, it doesn’t need to look beautiful on a shelf.
Kate Flynn (23:28):
They’re like handing it, you know, it’s like for it’s like their catering department, they’re handing it out and lunches and stuff like that. So it was different, larger distributions. Yeah. It’s like, so it really varies by channel. Like, who can we send this through? Who can we not? There was, um, LinkedIn has a, um, an office down here, um, in Carpentaria and they carry our compostable. So it’s like, it’s really good for certain channels, but I’m in a place where the patching needs to look really good for someone to buy it. Like the tech it’s not quite there yet. I think that’s what we’ve experienced. So there’s just things like that. Like it, it just, um, and yeah, so we are one of the first, we’re one of the only people I know who have it, um, on the market, we’ve just won like a big award for it, like a couple months ago in our industry. So thank you. We’re, we’re really stoked to be like, it’s definitely complex. We’re like the goal when we first launched it, I was like, okay, by like 2020, we’re going to be a hundred percent compostable. And I was like, Oh, no, no, no, no. Like that’s not happening. Like we might not be able to survive if we do that. So we’re trying to like, be, do it carefully. But, um, yeah,
Sebastian Naum (24:28):
It’s just, we’re doing the right thing. It’s hard sometimes. And that’s one of the things, right. And so it’s fine to do your best within the scope as much as possible, hitting all these different verticals and pillars of purpose driven brands, but sometimes doing it all is impossible. So you,
Kate Flynn (24:43):
Yeah. And I think that’s, I think that’s one of the biggest things I’ve had to learn is like, I think, Oh, you’re a purpose driven brand. Your do good brand. Like, you feel like you want to do it all. And then like, I feel like I find myself feeling guilty that we’re like, Oh, we’re not all compostable yet. Like, I feel really bad about it. Then I’m like, Whoa, but we’re still doing better than like 90% of companies out there with this, you know? And so you kind of have to think about it. Um, somebody said this once, once, and it really resonated with me that like the journey, like it’s, it’s always like a journey to do better. Like, and you, you know, it’s the whole idea, like progress, not perfection, like just cause you’re not all the way there. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. And I think that’s, I think that’s a hard thing when you’re trying to build like a, do good brand and be a purpose driven brand. You can’t do it all. And like all like you, you have to balance it all within having like a financially sustainable business. And it’s like, how do you do all these things? And still,
Sebastian Naum (25:36):
Yeah, the end of the day, if you’re not profiting and if you’re not growing, you’re not being able to help those causes that you’re standing by. So the more profitable you are, the more you can help this planet, the more you can help and give back. So, yeah. Yeah. So these, um, purpose driven brand factors obviously are big in terms of helping with purchasing decisions, especially gen Z. And, um, you know, just basically I guess everybody and the community nowadays, like it’s starting to care more and more but more so young people. Right. And, um, but it’s not just about the consumers is what I’ve learned. It’s also about your team, obviously yourself, but your team. How does that affect everyone that works for you? How does that purpose drive them and also drive you on a day-to-day basis?
Kate Flynn (26:27):
Yeah. I mean, I think it’s super important cause, cause you’re right. I think if you only think about the consumers, like I think that, um, you run the risk of doing something that’s either not authentic. Like you, you run the risk of doing things, just you think you should versus like, or also maybe not doing something because you don’t think they care about it enough. Like in the compostable example, we, I sent out a survey it’s like everybody had purchased from our website and asked us like how important it is to them before we launched it. And it was not high on the list. And like I could have right. Then be like our core consumer doesn’t care about it. Like I’m not going to get it, but like you have to. So I think it’s important. But at the same time, I know that the trends are supporting it.
Kate Flynn (27:11):
It was just, you know, it wasn’t as important as things like the healthy ingredients, all this, it wasn’t the number one thing. So, um, so I think that definitely, um, you know, it needs to come from like internally in the organization, the founders and the team have to be passionate about what the mission is and what you’re believing. And for it to really be a, I think, authentic messaging, but B for like everyone to be aligned and stand behind it. Like, just thinking about the compostable, like this doesn’t, it’s not just like, it really is the entire organization that has to think about it. So if you think about like, we do all of our manufacturing in house, like the compostable packaging is a little harder to open. So it makes like when we’re manufacturing, everybody who’s doing the manufacturing, it’s a little bit hard, like a little bit harder to use the compostable than the regular packaging.
Kate Flynn (27:57):
But like, so they can either, if they don’t stand by that, then they’re just going to be frustrated on the days you have to be like, okay, we know it’s more, no, no, it’s a little harder to work with, but like, this is it’s worth it, you know? So you really need kind of everybody. And also like, it helps when you have, um, the rest of your organization, like thinking about ways to improve as well. Cause I think, you know, as founders like myself and Brian, try to think about it constantly, but like having those other, the idea flow like from throughout other people, like only helps us do that.
Sebastian Naum (28:31):
Wouldn’t it listen to your team and listen to everyone involved and making sure that they’re just as involved and care about, you know, what you guys stand for. It makes everybody work harder. It makes them want to stay longer. They more, they stay with you. The less turnover you have, the less training you have to do, which also costs money. There’s so many like pluses of having everybody involved in be passionate with your brand. Yep, totally. Yeah. So a big part of your distribution strategy, which is a little bit non-traditional was going through corporate offices, uh, fitness studios, um, coworking spaces, as opposed to just go into grocery stores. And now all those places are closed. They’ve been, they’ve been affected obviously by COVID-19 what has been your opinion?
Kate Flynn (29:15):
Yeah, so, uh, we realized quickly early in COVID once, once things started shutting down and, um, you know, once San Francisco had, like, I think it was as soon as San Francisco put in a shelter in place where like, okay, the world is going to shut down for the country and the world is going to shut down for, um, for a little while. So that base, I mean our entire 2020 growth plan was based in these alternative channels that are like currently not open, not only our growth plan, but like a lot of our wholesale businesses, mainly wholesale. Yeah.
Sebastian Naum + Kate Flynn (29:42):
So it must have been freaking out. Yeah. We were actually on our baby moon when this all happened. [inaudible] this is a smear last relaxing trip,
Kate Flynn (29:51):
But whatever, that’s what it’s going
Kate Flynn (29:53):
To be passionate about. The work you’re doing the end of the day,
Kate Flynn (29:57):
You know, it doesn’t feel like work, so we’re fine. But, um, but, uh, we, uh, we, um, so our, our initial thought went to like, this is common for, I think a lot of CPG brands, our initial thought was like, okay, a lot of our channels are not open right now. How do we sell more online to the consumer? And, um, our immediate thought was okay, right now we make, grab and go snack foods that are our entire, like one of our major points of our value proposition has been bringing, grab and go snacks to people when they’re on the go, but people aren’t on the go anymore. They’re not at home. So what else can we offer them to make, like, to, you know, make them be more incentivized, like purchase from our website versus, um, you know, buying, grabbing a sacks that they might not need right now or need as much.
Kate Flynn (30:42):
And so, um, we, we had always been like kind of sitting on the idea of adding like what we call it, country staples to our website. So things like, we know our core consumer is buying things like coconut oil and hemp seed, hemp hearts and, you know, cashews and nuts. Like we know that right, exactly. Like we know everybody’s buying those things right now. Um, or that that’s like, that’s part of it. We know that’s in their pantry typically. Right. And so we know it still needs to be in there, like maybe even more now because people are cooking and eating more at home and stuff like that. So, um, we started with saying, okay, like, instead of just selling our finished snacks, let’s start selling our raw ingredients as raw ingredients. And we can sell them at good prices because we don’t have to add room for like, um, wholesale margins.
Kate Flynn (31:33):
So basically we, you know, with typical products, it’s like as a manufacturer, we have to make money, but also distributors have to make money. And the stores we’re selling to have to make money. So the, by the time it gets to the customer, it’s like marked up several times, so right. Hey, we can go direct to the customer with these raw ingredients. We can sell it to them at good prices. And we’re also like, this is an opportunity for us to like go bigger and compostable because we don’t have to deal. We’re selling direct to the consumer. We don’t have to deal with a lot of those things that I was challenged. I was talking about before I like sitting on the shelf and you know, not looking as great and stuff like that. So we, um, we basically launched our, we launched what we’re calling like, uh, uh, we’re calling like the planet friendly pantry.
Kate Flynn (32:15):
So it’s like pantry staples, but all in, um, compostable bags or we have some in reusable glass jars, but, um, and it’s been awesome. Like people have, I think two, two things have been amazing about it. One is our current customers are buying it. So it’s like serving, it’s continuing to serve the need of the people who are already shopping from us, like which we, which was so important us. But then B it’s also bringing us a lot of new customers who, um, you know, maybe aren’t as willing to buy like a spine snack foods online is funny. Like how often have you gone to like cliff bars, website and like purchase from their website, you usually buy from Amazon, right? Or like the story
Sebastian Naum (32:58):
From the store. Yeah. That’s something you typically,
Kate Flynn (33:01):
You typically don’t go like find an energy bar and go on their website and buy it. It’s not a common habit. So it also, um, it now is bringing people who like might not typically come buy snack foods on a website, but they’re going to buy like these other things.
Sebastian Naum (33:17):
That’s amazing. You know what I love about that. So, uh, a few weeks ago I was giving a talk, um, uh, a digital talk on zoom to exactly the only way we can do it. And, uh, it was to, uh, international entrepreneurs and CEOs. There was about 60 of them in different countries of the world. And it was about, um, adapting to COVID-19 and how to navigate the waters through marketing and just through their actions. And one of the things I was talking about was innovation and also branding. So building a strong brand connection and innovating because that’s, what’s going to get you to be there for the longterm and be there when you come out of this weather when this ends quote unquote or when it gets better. Right. So I think what you guys have done there is amazing because how much of that do you think now is going to become part of the new strategy, which you never know, some of the new stuff you do may end up making you more money later because of the heart and you’re, you’re out of patience and your pivots
Kate Flynn (34:16):
You’re so right. And like, I feel like this is, so I told you if this was all happening, when our baby, our baby, baby man, the thing that like, I think kept us in a really positive head space is I feel like every single time we’ve had like a major knockdown in the business, like we’ve now it’s been like, we’re going on four years of running it every single time saying really like has happened. We’ve always looked back and then like, thank God that happened. Because if that didn’t happen, like we wouldn’t be here. It’s always been like, and I, I’m a big believer in like, the universe is guiding you to like, where you need to go. Like, it’s all, you know, it’s kinda, it’s, it’s a lot of it’s out of your control. Like, so I’m a big believer in like that kind of stuff.
Kate Flynn (34:51):
And, um, and so when we happened, we’re like, Hey, you know what? Like, we’re going to end up in a better position somehow out of this. And that’s exactly how we feel right now is like this. We just, we just realize there is, we’ve been pushing, pushing, pushing, trying, you know, a lot of this goes back to this compostable, which is something we care so deeply about. We’ve been trying so hard to get it, to work with like our snack products. And there’s been so many challenges and the way we’re doing it right now is easy. And it lets us like, have this positioning as like, you know, healthy products and eco-friendly packaging in a way more amplified way than we ever would have been able to in the way we were trying to do it before. And we’re like, we never would have gotten here if we were just so focused on growing what we already had.
Kate Flynn (35:35):
So we’re already feeling like grateful for that. We were like forced to like pause and bank and like, and it feels a lot, like, we feel a lot, like we’re in the past couple of months has felt a lot, like the first, like six months of year of running the business. Like I think the first, like six months a year is like, okay, you’re doing everything. You’re figuring everything out. And then at that point, you’re just like scaling and building and teaching other people to how to help you. It really was like me and Brian, like back to doing everything, like back to uni, like figuring it all out. And it was kinda like really, like, I we’ve been working really hard the past couple months, but like, it’s been like really exciting. And now we’re like, okay, we’re starting to figure this out. We can like start to carve it off to like, get some help and stuff like that. But, um, but yeah, really it’s, it’s been, we’re already grateful for like kind of being forced to stop. And it makes, we are already feeling like we’re going to be able to make a bigger impact as a company with what we’re doing.
Sebastian Naum (36:27):
That’s amazing. I’m so proud of you guys for doing that. And I think that that’s how companies have to react and it’s unfortunate that some companies will not survive. It really is. Um, but I think that the companies that do survive are the ones that are going to innovate. The ones that are going to pivot the ones are going to continue to create stronger brand connections with the consumers and be there for the long run and show that they care. And that’s a big deal when you show that you care, you’re showing that as you’re launching, you know, a compostable packaging pantry brand, you’re showing that you care. And so people are now making that connection and then they’re going to be telling their friends about it. And so now this becomes one of your primary products now moving forward. I think that’s so cool. You’ve mentioned Brian several times. Uh, and Brian’s your husband for anyone that doesn’t know, and he is one of your co-founders, what is that like? What’s it like to work together? Do you guys want to, you know, pull each other’s hairs out sometimes? How do you deal with the challenges that it brings?
Kate Flynn (37:22):
Yeah. So it’s funny. I feel like people are, I’ve talked to, like, I’ve talked to a lot of people who like, are co-founders with their spouses or like could never be co-founders of their spouses. And I think you fall into one or two camps. And I think that doesn’t have anything to do with your relationship. I think you’re either two people who like, can work really well together. And like, it’s a really good thing. Or I think you’re like two people who like, it’s going to be, it’s not going to work well. And for me and Brian, like I’m type a, like, he’s not like I like to do things. He doesn’t, he likes to do things I don’t like to do. Like I’m a little bit more, I don’t know. I guess like intense things. He’s really chill. So like, we really, um, don’t confess like we of course, like, there’s, we, we’re not like never, we never have conflicts, but, um, for us it works really well.
Kate Flynn (38:11):
And I think because of that, I’m so grateful for it because, um, your co-founder really has to be like you, if you ha, if you have a co-founder like, they have to be somebody that you want to be around all the time that you get along with that, like you like trust their opinion, you trust their views. And like, for us, it just works really, really well. The biggest challenge us is like, we can never get away from work because like, it’s always, if you think about it, like when we used to have separate jobs, I’d go to work, he’d go to work, we’d come home. We probably like both come home and vent a little bit about, or tell a story about something that happened for the day, but like our common point of things to talk about wasn’t working. So we spend time talking about other things. Now it’s like all we think about. And so like, we really have to be really, really conscious about like forcing ourselves, like, Hey, we’re going to like, go on a walk and like, not talk about work. That’s the biggest thing it’s like, it’s like, you never really get a break from it. But, um, but so in for awhile, we like, weren’t aware of that. And after a couple of years where like, okay, like all of our free time is spent talking about work. So like, let’s like, let’s try to put some boundaries here.
Sebastian Naum (39:23):
Yeah. I think you said something really interesting. Um, you said that it’s not about the relationship, it’s about how you can work together. So it’s not that relationship. Ship’s not going to dictate that it’s going to be your work relationship and how you can compliment each other, how you can be your Batman and Robin strengths and weaknesses. I think that’s really interesting to, to understand because you may get along and that goes the same thing for friends, for family, you may get along great, but it’s about the whole relationship. That’s why some, you know, the brothers and sisters, or that’s why some, uh, father and sons or mothers and daughters can do it because they compliment each other. It’s not about their personal relationship. So great reflection. And, um, so I want to ask you, uh, you’re, you know, excellent leader and you’re an amazing example, um, as an entrepreneur, what do you think the new leader focuses on? What do they have to focus on? What’s the one biggest thing today that a new leader has to focus on?
Kate Flynn (40:23):
I think so. I think that the answer is, it’s not one thing I think that I think, but I think like that historically, and honestly, even before starting this company, I, I think that the mindset is it’s about like growth and profit. Like that’s what, that’s what you have to worry about. You have to worry about building a big business with like a big bottom line. And I think now, like how things are evolving is like, yeah, that’s like a really important objective, but you have to be considering all these other aspects of your business as well. And it’s not, that’s, um, that’s a top priority for sure, but you really need to be taking into account like how, like your employees and everything like your, your bigger purpose. And I think one of the things that’s made us successful so far is, um, is thinking about like purpose and the bigger picture of what we’re trying to achieve more than anything else.
Kate Flynn (41:22):
So, um, that’s allowed us to, you know, I I’ve talked about before our very first thing we tried to launch was like a different product, but we had this like bigger mission in mind and we like stood behind that and we’re like, okay, like we know we have this like overarching mission. Like how do we move and flow and adjust our business like over long longevity in our business to continue to fulfill this mission. Um, but in, you know, a way that works with the times and all of that stuff. So I think that like focusing instead on like one aspect of your bit, like, so it’d be like, okay, it’s all about the culture or it’s all about this, or it’s all about this kind of thing of like, what’s our bigger objective of the business. Was there, our big purpose, was there big mission, and then let’s make sure we’re doing like a good job across all of these aspects underneath to like, bring that to life. Um, I think that’s how, how we view it.
Sebastian Naum (42:11):
So it’s like viewing everything from like a bound standpoint, because you started by talking about growth and profits and then went back to purpose. And so essentially it’s really the balance between the growth and profits and purpose, which we were just talking about, the more you can grow and the more profits you can have, the more you can give back to your, do your mission.
Kate Flynn (42:29):
Yeah. And I think, yeah, I think balance is a great way to put it. And I think that’s, it’s like, you know, it’s like the work-life balance. We all, you know, it’s all about trying to find balance in everything. And I think it’s being okay with like the fact that like, okay, we’re not gonna, we, you can’t be, um, you know, you can’t get 10 hours of sleep a night and work out two hours a day and do an hour meditation and work 20 hours. Like you can’t do it all. Like you can’t like you can’t do all those things. I keep
Sebastian Naum (42:57):
Telling myself I can
Kate Flynn (43:08):
I think that’s a really great way to, to think about the company. Like, and I think that, especially as like a new, a young founder, I don’t have, we don’t have a huge team. I don’t have, I don’t have, like, I, you know, I can’t do everything perfectly. Um, and it’s like balancing everything within like what we can do in the best way we can do it.
Sebastian Naum (43:28):
Sure. I love that. How do we get ahold of you? How can we get ahold of sentence? Well, where do we find you?
Kate Flynn (43:35):
Yeah. So our website’s always a great place to start. It’s just www.sunandswellfoods.com and, um, Instagrams. I was a good place to connect to. So just at sentence, whole foods, those are kind of our two, two best places to connect with, connect with people. So
Sebastian Naum (43:53):
Great. I love that. Well, thank you so much for being with us here today. The time a lot of people hear this, you’re going to have a human child. So I’m really excited in Brian’s.
Sebastian Naum + Kate Flynn (44:04):
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much, Kate. Okay.